Man at His Best

The Rex Tillerson Story Is Full of Holes

Was it his health? His feud with Trump? Did he find out Friday or today?

BY Charles. P. Pierce | Mar 14, 2018 | Money & Career

Getty Images

If there were anyone still working at the State Department, it would have been interesting to get their reactions to the sudden departure of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State less than 48 hours after he said the following in response to the apparent poisoning of a Russian spy and his daughter in Great Britain. From The Standard:

“There is never a justification for this type of attack, the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation, and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. We have full confidence in the UK's investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week. There is never a justification for this type of attack - the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation - and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. From Ukraine to Syria - and now the UK - Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”

If you awoke to the news from The Washington Post that Tillerson was out as SOS, and that he will be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo, and your first reaction wasn’t to connect Tillerson’s departure to these remarks, you should go back to bed for a couple of hours. Remember that, on Monday, the day that Tillerson allied himself with British Prime Minister Theresa May and with common sense in pinning this deadly caper on Russia, official White House spokesdrone Sarah Huckabee Sanders gargled a whole bunch of banalities in her press briefing without ever once mentioning Russia.

To be sure, over the past couple of weeks, Tillerson’s health has become something of an issue. First, he cut short an Asia trip because of “fatigue,” and then he came home a day early from a trip to Africa, having skipped meetings in Kenya because he was not feeling well. However, if the administration* and Tillerson had been concocting a health-related alibi for Tillerson’s departure over the past month, nobody was employing it on Monday.

Photo: Getty Images

The official line from Camp Runamuck was that the president* shuffled Tillerson out for cause, leaving the rest of us to recall what Tillerson had said about the poisoning of the Skirpals. However, the Post also has reported that Tillerson knew he’d been fired on the previous Friday, so what the hell did he have to lose by speaking his mind on Monday?

If that was the case, they kept it damned quiet. Maybe, but one of Tillerson’s deputies has told the Associated Press that the Secretary was caught by surprise and learned about his dismissal when the president* tweeted about it on Tuesday morning. (Jesus, you wouldn’t run a gas station this way.) In any event, they had a health-related out, and they declined to use it. Graceless is as graceless does. This was defenestration, pure and simple.

Tillerson wasn’t much of a SOS, truth be told. He decimated the State Department, leaving hundreds of jobs unfilled. He never could get out from under the fact that Vladimir Putin once hung a medal around his neck. He was ignored on almost every major issue by the incredible cast of fools and mountebanks with whom the president* has surrounded himself. His one shining moment came when we learned that he once called the president* “a fucking moron.”

Apparently, he was caught completely by surprise when the president* decided he’d like to chat with Kim Jong-un, and there have been rumors of his imminent departure since at least the end of last summer. So, ultimately, there’s going to be one more empty office at Foggy Bottom, at least for a while, and it’s an office that’s been figuratively empty for a while.

Photo: Getty Images

Tillerson will be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo, whose rise from forgettable Tea Party congresscritter to the heights of power continues to be one of the more amazing political ascents of our time. Why, it was only in December of 2015 that Congressman Pompeo was suggesting that members of the United States military commit dereliction of duty because the president was bla…er…because unlawful something-something-Gitmo-Obama. (And this from a guy who finished at the top of his class at West Point.) Now, this is the guy who will be in charge of whatever is left of American diplomacy once the president* gets through with it.

Pompeo’s replacement at Langley is even more interesting. Gina Haspel, currently Pompeo’s deputy, will become the first woman director ever at CIA. But that’s not the most interesting part of her CV. Back in the early 2000s, Haspel was one of the people who sailed deepest into what Dick Cheney called “the dark side.” According to reports, Haspel ran a “black site” prison in Thailand where detainees were regularly tortured. From the Guardian:

She briefly ran a black site in Thailand where suspected al-Qaida members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were tortured in 2002, and Haspel later helped carry out an order that the CIA destroy its waterboarding videos, US officials told Reuters and Associated Press on condition of anonymity. CIA cables on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah at the site, codenamed Cat’s Eye, were declassified last month. They revealed he was waterboarded 83 times in a month and had his head repeatedly slammed into walls. Interrogators also used sleep deprivation and kept Abu Zubaydah in a “large box”, the documents said. His captors later decided he held no useful intelligence.

Don’t worry, though. She was just following orders. Shut up, Ghost of Henry Wirz. More from the Guardian:

Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, said in an article endorsing Haspel on Thursday that she had drafted a cable instructing a “field station” to destroy videotapes of CIA interrogations. “She did so at the request of her direct supervisor and believing that it was lawful to do so. I personally led an accountability exercise that cleared Haspel of any wrongdoing in the case,” he wrote.

So, if the president* orders Haspel to violate the CIA charter and spy on Americans, the way it used to in the good old days before William Colby spilled all the beans, Haspel surely will refuse to follow this command, right? The confirmation hearings ought to be interesting, anyway. And there’s no apparent rush. Any time after the midterms this fall will be fine. After all, we got along without a functioning Secretary of State for almost two years.

Update (1:14 p.m.): Holy god, they'll be firing outspoken janitors next. From CNBC:

Steve Goldstein, Rex Tillerson's top spokesman at the State Department, was fired Tuesday for contradicting the official administration account of Tillerson's firing, a White House official told NBC News.

Enough, apparently, is never enough.


Source: Esquire US